Today is the solstice; today, the sun stands still. Well, actually, it’s been standing still for a few days now, and it will continue to do so for a few more days. From 17 June to 24 June day length is 15 hours, 30 minutes and a handful of seconds. The longest day of 2022 is today, June 21st, but today is less than a second longer than yesterday and tomorrow is only 3 seconds shorter. The day’s routine is definitely stationary this time of year.
The earliest dawn has already come and gone. The sun began rising at 5:05am on the 12th; it rose one minute later on the 19th, and one minute more will be added on Midsummer’s Day (the 24th). The latest sunsets begin tonight. The sun drops below the western horizon today at 8:37pm and will continue to do so through 1 July. On July 2nd it sets one minute earlier. If you are particular about such things and count seconds, the actual earliest sunrise falls on 15 June and the latest sunset is 26 June. But you’d be hard pressed to note the differences unless you have a very flat horizon and a clock with a seconds hand.
And that is sort of the point of all this time-noting. Around this time of year, there is no day that feels substantially longer than any others. The summer solstice truly marks not the day length but the sun’s furthest poleward point on the horizon. This year that happened at 5:14am this morning, just after sunrise.
But Midsummer is a season, not a moment. There are many long days and short nights to celebrate, to salute the sun. Yes, the actual point of the solstice is a moment, a moment that varies from year to year. However, the holiday of Midsummer happens each year on June 24th, a few days after the solstice moment. This is when I plan to salute the sun, probably from my garden, though there are several Midsummer celebrations within walking distance of my house if I feel up to more socializing after my work day. Still, I sort of think sun salutes should happen at sunrise, and most of the parties are night-time bonfires. So maybe both?
Humans have been saluting the sun at this time of year for as long as we’ve been humans. Many of the most ancient relics of human culture relate to time-keeping. Many early public construction projects like Stonehenge, Newgrange and pyramids worldwide are oriented to catch and direct light at the equinoxes and solstices, often in stunningly complex fashion. Our ancestors felt the need to erect these amazing structures, laboring over generations, even centuries, to honor our magnificent star.
In that light, perhaps I should not feel so very unusual in my drive to do the same. My ancestors would understand this profound entanglement, connection, communion, this need to feel kinship with the sun, the stars, the rivers, the stones, the wolves and winds and bears and bees and birds. They would know the swelling in my heart at the dawn chorus and the bone-deep calm that descends with the trilling of a robin the dusky purple light. They too would talk with trees and sing with raindrops and dance with meadow grasses. They would understand me, know me, feel me. I would not be so very unusual.
I would not be unusual, but many of the humans I’ve known would be. This whole culture would be an aberration. No, it is an aberration. It has never existed before and likely will never exist again. The rampant dualism, the transcendentalism that places human habitation outside and above this living world, the hierarchies and divisions between human and all else, the sheer hubris of humans in denying vibrancy and agency and personhood to any other state of being — none of that would be comprehensible to our ancestors, and not because they were so simplistic that they could not understand modern concepts. They would simply not understand why anyone would believe such apparent stupidity. And why would you want to? How could you be so willfully blind as to hold such nonsensical ideas? How could you live a life in such alienation and isolation and rejection? How could you not feel the sun on your cheek and know that for a caress from a living, loving, caring universe? How could you not feel kinship? How could you not pause in your summer work and salute the passing of time and the sun that marks that passage?
It is my hope that we do not have many more summer solstices that pass largely unheralded. It is my belief that this aberrant time will, indeed, pass and there will be holidays again. But for now I am living in a place, maybe one of the few in my country, that is not aberrant, that is traditional, that is living as our ancestors did, in a world fully ensouled and alive. The solstice, here, is a day to pause and reflect on time and change. There are Midsummer celebrations all around my home here in Vermont. There are people, pagans and otherwise, dancing with this vibrant world of ours, openly and without fear.
And if it can happen here…
A merry Midsummer to you all!
©Elizabeth Anker 2022